Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00939-20 Wilson v Bournemouth Echo
Summary of Complaint
1. Ailsa Wilson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the bournemouthecho.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “Poole town centre: ‘New shops shouldn’t open’ – BID manager” published on 14 February 2020.
2. The article reported comments made at a local Council meeting by the manager of an organisation that represented businesses in Poole. The article reported that she said she would not recommend new independent shops open on Poole High Street whilst “significant” issues had yet to be resolved. The article quoted the manager explaining her position: for example, she said that a lack of investment meant that the high street looked run down, and there were issues with antisocial behaviour. As such, she said that she would “not recommend that vulnerable independent businesses open in the high street”.
3. The complainant, the manager who was quoted in the article, said that the article was misleading to report that she said that “new shops shouldn’t open”, when in fact she was talking solely about “vulnerable independent” businesses. She said that her comments had been taken out of context, and that this presentation of her remarks demonstrated a bias by the newspaper against Poole High Street and resulted in her losing her job.
4. The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate. During IPSO’s investigation, it provided a recording of the meeting in which the complainant said “until we can improve the perception of Poole High Street and get people talking about the good things rather than the negative things…I with all honesty could not encourage any business to come and open up on Poole High Street.” It noted that the complainant reiterated this position when she was questioned by other members of the meeting; it was clear that she was not recommending that new shops should open on the High Street. It said that it was in no way biased against the high street and noted that it was in the newspaper’s interest to have a thriving town centre. The newspaper said that it would like to work positively with complainant and her organisation, and so it offered to write a follow up article setting out the ongoing or planned initiatives for the development of the high street. The newspaper also offered to print a letter from the complainant in response to the article, and to meet to discuss a joint initiative to improve the image of the town centre.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
6. Following the provision of the audio recording of the meeting, it was not in dispute that the complainant had said “until we can improve the perception of Poole High Street and get people talking about the good things rather than the negative things…I with all honesty could not encourage any business to come and open up on Poole High Street.” The complainant was concerned that the online article had reported this comment out of context, and that therefore it was misleading as to her recommendation; she said that she was only referring to vulnerable independent businesses. However, it was clear from the recording that the complainant was not referring solely to vulnerable independent businesses; she said that she could not encourage “any business” to open on Poole High Street. Therefore, her comments were not taken out of context, and there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the online article in reporting that the complainant recommended that “new shops shouldn't open”, and no significant inaccuracy requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1.
7. The Editors’ Code of Practice does not address issues of bias. It makes clear the press has the right to be partisan, to give its own opinion and to campaign, as long as it takes care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. As such, the complainant’s concern that the article may have been biased did not raise a possible breach of Clause 1.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 17/02/2020
Date complaint concluded: 16/07/2020Back to ruling listing